Colts Defense Had No Answer for Derrick Henry

Every good offense has it. It’s the thing that makes it go. That one element that the defense knows it has to stop otherwise it will be a long day. For the Titans, it’s simple – Derrick Henry. If he gets going, the Titans can pick up big chunks of yards on the ground almost risk free. Play-action becomes more effective. And A.J. Brown sees more 1-on-1 coverage. Those are the three key aspects of Tennessee’s offense. The Colts’ short-handed defense couldn’t stop any of them in Week 12.

When Derrick Henry can successfully get to the perimeter, he is especially dangerous, and this helps set up the rest of the running game. The Titans were intent on getting him to the outside early on Sunday, which they did in several ways.

The below 12-yard run came on a pin-and-pull concept, with wide receivers A.J. Brown (#11) and Corey Davis (#84) sealing the inside and left tackle David Quessenberry (#72) pulling to the outside.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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Four plays later, Tennessee challenged the outside of the Colts Defense again. This time it was on a swing pass to Henry with his wide receivers blocking.

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This was technically ruled a run, and for all intents and purposes it was. This was basically just a long toss to the outside. Another way of getting the ball to Henry on the perimeter.

The pressure the Titans put on the edge in the running game forced the Colts to honor it, as you can see on this outside zone lead. Watch Indy’s defenders flow hard to the outside, allowing Henry to cut it back for 31 yards.

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This is why Henry is so difficult to defend. He’s dangerous on the outside and also a great cutback runner. He makes one cut and gets downhill in a hurry. At that size, if the defense can’t make him stop his feet in the backfield, he is going to punish them for 60 minutes.

The Titans’ success on these outside runs led to success on other running plays designed to hit more to the inside, including a few iso leads and counters. Henry finished the day with 178 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries. Tennessee gained 229 rushing yards total. It’s fair to say Indianapolis could have used DeForest Buckner, who missed the game after being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

The Titans’ effectiveness on the ground set up play-action as well. The below pass was our favorite of the day. Tennessee’s route concepts off of play-action often target the middle of the field after linebackers have vacated it to defend Henry and the run. On this play, they used a tendency-breaker. Watch Corey Davis take his route inside initially. This got cornerback T.J. Carrie, who was responsible for the deep outside third of the field, to go inside with him initially.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass
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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

It looked like Carrie saw the play-action and saw his linebackers sucked up towards the line of scrimmage. His instincts were to attack the high-tendency in-breaking route off of play-action. Only, Davis would take his route to the outside, which was now vacant.

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That’s great design.

You’ve seen two of the key elements of Tennessee’s offense above. The third is A.J. Brown. When defenses are concerned with Derrick Henry and the run, that means he’s going to see more 1-on-1 matchups. And that’s what happened on this 69-yard touchdown pass on 1st-and-15.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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The Titans did anything and everything they wanted to against Indy in Week 12. Their offense rolled at just about maximum efficiency on its way to 35 (35!) first-half points against a good Colts Defense. Even with Indianapolis missing some players on defense, that’s still a very impressive performance.

The Titans Offense runs through Derrick Henry, and it’s getting to be that time of the season where he starts to get north of 25 carries every week. That’s what we’ve seen in Tennessee’s last two games, and we expect a whole lot more of it in the coming weeks.

Like what you read? Follow us on Twitter @FB_FilmRoom (Football Film Room) for more insight and analysis.

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